Mr. Lewis would remain in that tight-knit African-American world as he became a coach and father figure to countless boys, co-founded the first social and pleasure club in the Lower Ninth Ward, shared his table with family, friends and strangers, and sought to tell the world about his home.
“Right here in the Ninth Ward was where our people chased the American dream,” he told The Advocate.
Like everyone who was in New Orleans in 2005, Mr. Lewis saw his life upended by Katrina, which flooded his house and museum (both were rebuilt) and nearly obliterated his beloved neighborhood. He was one of the first people to return.
“When I came back to the Lower Nine, it was me, my wife and the hot plate that she made a pot of gumbo for us with,” he said in 2013 on a local television talk show, “The Goodnight Show.”
Mr. Lewis is survived by his wife, Charlotte Hill Lewis; two sons, Renaldo and Rashad; his stepsiblings, Larry Dickerson, Stella Keasley, Cedric Lewis, Ebimola Ojusoku, Richard Lewis, Irvin Dickerson, Walter Jones and Larry Lewis; seven grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.
The House of Dance and Feathers was a one-man operation, with no official hours, text placards or cataloging of any kind, other than what existed in Mr. Lewis’s head. The only sure way to visit was by calling him up on his cellphone to schedule a time. The museum has been closed while his family takes inventory and decides what to do with it.
Ordinarily, someone of Mr. Lewis’s stature would be given a jazz funeral led by a brass band with thousands of people joining behind in the second line. But with social distancing restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, such a celebration was impossible at the time of his death.